Hebrew Word Pronunciations
By Jeff A. Benner

The following rules will assist the reader with pronouncing the Hebrew words without relying on the nikkud (vowel pointings) as used in most lexicons and dictionaries.

Spirants and Stops

A spirant is a letter whose sound can be prolonged. Some examples of this from the English language are the v, z, f, and sh. A stop is a letter whose sound ends abruptly such as the b, p, d and t. A few of the Hebrew letters will have a different pronunciation depending on their position within the word. The letter b will usually be pronounced as a stop (b) when at the beginning of the word and as a spirant (v) when it is anywhere else in the word. For example the word is pronounced “bar” while the word is pronounced “rav”. Another letter that will change is the letter kaph - . When at the beginning of a word it will be pronounced as a stop (k), otherwise it will be pronounced as a spirant (kh - pronounced like the ch in the name Bach). The only other letter that will change is the letter pey - . When at the beginning of a word it will be a stop (p), otherwise it will be a spirant (ph).

Vowels

Four of the Hebrew letters double as consonants and vowels. These are the (al), (hey), (waw) and the (yud). The al can be a glottal stop (silent pause) or the vowel sound “a”. The hey is an “h” as a consonant or an “e” as a vowel. The waw is a “w” as a consonant or an “o” or “u” as a vowel. The yud is a “y” as a consonant or an “i' as a vowel. The waw and the yud are the two most commonly used as vowels in Hebrew words. When the waw appears at beginning of a syllable it will use the consonantal "w" sound. The same with the yud which will use the consonantal "y" when at beginning of a syllable.

Another type of vowel is the implied vowel sounds. This means that the vowel is not written but is necessary in order to pronounce the word. An example of this is the word (grain) which consists of the two consonant B and R and cannot be pronounced without a vowel between them. In most cases the implied vowel will be an “a” or an “e”. In this case the implied vowel is the "a" and the word is pronounced “BaR”.

Syllables

There are two types of syllables, open and closed. A closed syllable will include a consonant-vowel-consonant combination while an open syllable will have a vowel-consonant combination. The vowel may be one of the four consonant/vowel letters, usually the yud (I) or the waw (O or U) or an implied vowel. In most cases the final syllable will be a closed syllable. The word (covenant) will have two syllables. The first is , an open syllable pronounced “be”, and the second is , a closed syllable pronounced “riyt”.

Generally a word with three consonants will be divided as Cv-CvC. A word with four consonants will be divided as Cv-Cv-CvC or CvC-CvC. When a word includes five consonants the breakdown is usually Cv-Cv-Cv-CvC or CvC-Cv-CvC.

If the word includes one of the four consonant/vowel letters, its position within the word will determine if it is used as a consonant or a vowel. Generally, when the consonant/vowel is placed at the beginning of a syllable or the end of a closed syllable it will take on the consonantal sound. When it is in the middle of a closed syllable or the end of an open syllable it will take on the vowel sound.

Masoretic Vowels

The Hebrew text of the Bible was originally written with only the twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. About one thousand years ago a group called the Masorites created a system of dots and dashes called "nikkud" and placed them above and below the consonants to represent the vowels. It was discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls that the four Hebrew letters, the , , and , were used as vowels. At some point between the writing of the Dead Sea Scrols and the Masorites the four Hebrew letters used as vowels were dropped from the text. The vowels were re-inserted into the text by the Masorites with the use of the nikkud.